Legitimacy and Punishment in a Community CourtChristine Zozula
Community Courts are designed to handle a city’s low-level offenses and quality-of-life crimes, such as littering, loitering, or public drunkenness. Court advocates maintain that these largely victimless crimes jeopardize the well-being of residents, businesses, and visitors. Whereas traditional courts might dismiss such cases or administer a small fine, community courts aim to meaningfully punish offenders to avoid disorder escalating to apocalyptic decline.
Courting the Community is a fascinating ethnography that goes behind the scenes to explore how quality-of-life discourses are translated into court practices that marry therapeutic and rehabilitative ideas. Christine Zozula shows how residents and businesses participate in meting out justice—such as through community service, treatment, or other sanctions—making it more emotional, less detached, and more legitimate in the eyes of stakeholders. She also examines both “impact panels,” in which offenders, residents, and business owners meet to discuss how quality-of-life crimes negatively impact the neighborhood, as well as strategic neighborhood outreach efforts to update residents on cases and gauge their concerns.
Zozula’s nuanced investigation of community courts can lead us to a deeper understanding of punishment and rehabilitation and, by extension, the current state of the American court system.
“ Christine Zozula’s masterful ethnography of community courts provides a much-needed look at the criminalization of everyday life. Courting the Community documents the slow creep of such courts into communities, where their intense scrutiny of low-level offenders serves the primary purpose of criminalizing incivility. This book is a must-read for anyone concerned with how the idea of community is used to expand the system of punishment in the United States.”—Rebecca Tiger, Associate Professor of Sociology at Middlebury College and author of Judging Addicts: Drug Courts and Coercion in the Justice System
“In this deeply researched and accessibly written book, Christine Zozula lays bare the promises and potential pitfalls of community courts. She vividly conveys how these relatively new institutions, which combine treatment and penal logics to govern low-level crime and incivility, shape the very meaning of ‘community.’ This timely, rigorous, and engaging book establishes Zozula as a leading expert on community courts.”—Joshua Page, Associate Professor of Sociology and Law at the University of Minnesota and author of The Toughest Beat: Politics, Punishment, and the Prison Officers Union in California
"(A) clearly written and engaging book on a fascinating institution that blurs the line between formal bureaucracy and community. Zozula avoids the use of legal and academic jargon without compromising her thorough explanation of the role of community courts in the larger context of the criminal justice system and contemporary society.... Zozula's book is a timely addition to sociological literature on crime, punishment, and community.... (It) offers important insight into the promises of community courts and highlights the shaky foundation upon which they are built."
— Symbolic Interaction
"Courting the Community provides an in-depth overview of the day-to-day operations in a community court, which will be welcomed by any reader looking to be introduced into this world of specialized courts. At the same time the book provides a satisfying and nuanced examination of the theoretical and practical operations of community courts for anyone already well-versed in problem-solving justice.... Zozula successfully and skillfully takes the reader through a compelling journey of innovative justice that not only adequately informs, but boldly critiques, in the spirit of justice and equality."
—Criminal Law and Criminal Justice Books
" (T)he effort by Christina Zozula to lift the veil over a niche community court is a windfall for students and scholars who desire to understand the workings of courts overall. Zozula examines the pseudonymous Greenville Community Court, using anecdotes and personal interviews with court administrators and judges. Courting the Community should be required reading for criminal justice practitioners and community members who wish to establish a community court, or question the efficacy of their participation in one."
—Journal of Urban Affairs
"Zozula makes several important observations.... (Her) theoretical work is some of the most important and most innovative in the book....(T)his is an important book for scholars who study courts as organizations, who are interested in treatment courts, and who are interested in the criminalization of poverty."
—Law & Society Review
"(A) grounded analysis of how court actors navigate and give meaning to competing goals to treat and to punish while striving to establish their court’s legitimacy to do both.... Courting the Community provides an invaluable window into the inner workings of a new approach to justice striving to justify its existence and effectiveness.... Amid many different experiments in criminal justice reform, Zozula adds an important study of the promises and drawbacks of institutional innovation within existing criminal justice frameworks." br/>— Contemporary Sociology
"Courting the Community studies (a) community court in 'Greenville,' a pseudonym for a U.S. city.... Drawing on almost a year of fieldwork, extensive interviews, and engagement with the broader 'community court' movement, Zozula makes a series of interrelated arguments about this field site that speaks to broader sociology of punishment and organizations literature.... Zozula explores the tensions and contradictions that ground-level actors experience as they simultaneously engage both of those different modalities of penal power: the punitive and the therapeutic."br/>— American Journal of Sociology